What’s the Ethical Thing to Do?

I have a dilemma. Some time ago, an editor emailed me, asking if I would be willing to review one of their books. After some deliberation, I agreed and he sent me the book. The thing is, I don’t like it. I’m not mildly disinterested; I really hate the book.

But I’m not into trashing books, publishers, or authors on my site. What should I do?

I could write a vapid review that said not much of anything with a recommendation like this: “For readers who like aliens with two heads constantly arguing with each other, this books is for you.” Like that. It narrows the audience to the faithful few.

That’s what I’d planned to do, but is that the ethical thing to do?

On one hand, I’d like to help the author. It happens to be someone I’ve exchanged comments with in one of the many writing venues out there. I’d like to help the publisher, a fairly new (no, not Marcher Lord Press) independent just making a go of it. I’m sure they could use some good press in this economic climate.

But that’s my problem. If I give a worthless review, is that “good press”? And if I give a candid review … well, I can assure you, it would not reflect favorably on the company.

I guess in writing this, I’ve come to the decision not to post a review. It’s not like I have to warn readers off of the book because the theology is so bad. It is, but I’m doubtful that many readers will have found the book other than a small circle that won’t be influenced by my review, even if they read it.

Perhaps the ethical thing is for me to purchase the book since I’m not upholding my end of the bargain by posting a review. That just might be the best answer.

Tomorrow I’ll try to write about something more interesting and not just work out my dilemmas in writing! 😉

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 5:06 pm  Comments (10)  


  1. I have been a small publisher. It’s a struggle to gain some kind of presence. Anyone who has anything good is not going to trust it to you, so you end up publishing the best of what is available to you. Hopefully you can improve over time. A negative review of an early book can be devastating. It’s also a kind of showing off on the part of the reviewer, suggesting how much more superior they are than the publisher or author.

    If it’s a bad book it’s going to sink under its own weight. You don’t need to go round boring holes in the bottom. It’s kinder to say nothing. Small publishers usually know when they have taken an awkward (and possibly desperate) step.


  2. Becky, rather than pay for a book you “hate”, I’d return the novel with your explanation.


  3. Becky, I like suggestion #2 – return the book to the publisher with your explanation. That respects both the publisher, the author and your integrity.

    Good call!


  4. Well, darn it, now I want to read the book.


  5. Hehe… there have been times that bad reviews generated almost as much movement as good ones.

    I think you’re taking the right road. Or as others suggested you could return the book with the explanation.


  6. Goodness. that is a dilemma. I think honesty is best but… I see what you are saying. That is a hard one. I like #2 too 😉 Have you dont a search for other reviews? Maybe you can glean from them to see what you can say… nicely? LOL


  7. Ken, you explained my reasoning perfectly. I have great hopes for this publishing endeavor, and I think a little competition for the established companies just may be what some of them need to ignite a vision. But in the meantime, how good are the projects coming out of the small independents?

    Nicole and Kim, thanks for the advice to return the book. That would be a good solution … except, I am so very hard on books. I bend covers back and fall asleep reading (a potential disaster for books). Truly, I don’t know who would want a book after I’ve read it. (Borrowed books is a different story! I had to add that for the librarians and friends out there who might think their books are in jeopardy if they fall into my hands. 😮 ) I’ve made the offer to the editor and will wait to hear back.

    Yes, Jessica and Stuart, a little controversy might stir more interest, but what if I’m right and the book then gets another dozen bad reviews?

    Let me just say, to quell any curiosity, that I found the content to be questionable and the literary merit to be worse. I finally finished the book, after deciding to stop reading it, because it was a book I could count on to put me back to sleep if I woke up in the middle of the night. Quickly, no less. Even in the midst of the climax when the action should be at its best. See? This is not a book I can bring to light.



  8. It’s not them, it’s not the book, and it’s not personal. Tell them that you’re not a good fit to be reviewing this particular book. It’s just not a good fit to who you are and what you’re about.

    Chip MacGregor taught me that.


  9. Problem solved. I offered to pay and the editor said no need, then asked me my thoughts about the book. I spilled the beans then, but not for public consumption. The “not a good fit” is a diplomatic way of saying “i didn’t like it.” But the problem was, I’d agreed to review it without setting any stipulation. Most books, as I tell CSFF’ers, have strengths and weaknesses, so it’s usually possible to give a balanced review—not too much gushing and no thrashing.

    Undoubtedly I could have found strengths in this book too, but in the end my recommendation would have reflected what I felt, and along the way the problems I would have to point out would not have done anyone any good.

    Thanks again to all for your advice on this.



  10. Well, this advice is too late, but perhaps it can serve in the future. Don’t promise ahead of time to review it. Tell them you’ll read it and review it if it met minimal standards, or however you want to word it. It’s always a risky thing to sign a blank cheque. ;o)


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